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Cancer patients worried as KNH runs out of drug

Patients who rely on an expensive breast cancer drug are complaining of the inconsistency in its supply after Kenyatta National Hospital ran out of the drug a month ago.

The drug, Herceptin, that can cure early stages of the disease, is currently out of stock after the ministry of Health failed to honour its commitment on procurement.

The drug is very expensive, with a dose costing Sh250,000, and a patient needs 18 doses. However, patients receive it for free at the KNH.


Herceptin is approved for the treatment of early-stage breast cancer, known in medical terms as human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-positive (HER2+), that has spread into the lymph nodes.

It can also be used alone for the treatment of HER2-positive breast cancer in patients who have received one or more chemotherapy courses for metastatic disease.

The patients yesterday told the Sunday Nation that as recently as last week, most of them were turned away and told to go back at a later date since the drug was out of stock.

According to David Makumi, who chairs the Kenya Network of Cancer Organisations, cancer patients travel long distances to KNH only to be turned away.

This, he said, was forcing most patients to either delay their treatment or look for an alternative way of getting the drug in other facilities using their National Health Insurance Fund cards.

“Only patients attached to KNH and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital can access the drug for free. The rest who are in other hospitals are suffering. The drug is too expensive for them to afford and this is not fair,” he said

Mr Makumi said that on many occasions they have been forced to mount pressure on the ministry to purchase the drugs for the patients.


“It is a trend that the supply of the drug has been very poor, patients are suffering. Many miss their doses and risk disease progression,” he said

The Sunday Nation learnt that the Ministry of Health entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with a Swiss pharmaceutical company, Roche, in 2016 to supply the drug for free at KNH.

This later led to the formation of a programme, dubbed the Herceptin Access Programme, which caters for most of the cancer patients.

In a co-funding MoU signed in May last year, the ministry was to foot 50 per cent of the cost and Roche the other half. The deal made the drug accessible and issuable in a public facility for the first time in the country.

When the programme, designed to help patients access treatment at a subsidised rate, was launched, about 20 patients were enrolled. The number later increased.

The Swiss firm took part of the larger chunk of the cost of the drugs by agreeing to pay 60 per cent as the Health ministry paid 40 per cent of the cost, which is about Sh80,959 ($800) for every dose of Herceptin.

But the ministry has been accused of failing to honour its end of the bargain.

This has forced the Kenya Network of Cancer Organisation, which is the national umbrella body of all cancer patients, to petition the Principal Secretary in the ministry of Health, Peter Tum, and demand that the purchase and distribution of the drug be immediately taken over by the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (KEMSA).